Right after the attack on America, there was a lot of talk about intelligence failures and the need for sharing information between agencies. Federal officials say they've made progress, and now they're bringing it to our area just in time for the G-8.
WTOC was on hand for the big announcement at the fire station on Oglethorpe Avenue, where they said homeland security starts at the local level to prevent or respond to attacks. Now they're using the internet to give local agencies the information they need.
The undersecretary of homeland security, Asa Hutchinson, was in attendance to talk G-8 preparations. "In my experience in law enforcement, which goes back for two decades, I have never seen a more thorough, technologically advanced, and cooperative an effort put together for the security of a single event," he said.
Specifically, he was referring to the new Joint Regional Information Exchange System, or JRIES. It lets authorized users access information from federal, state, and local agencies instantly over the internet. Users can get everything from daily homeland security briefs to targeted emergency messages. The system even supports pictures and video.
It's no coincidence federal officials chose this Savannah fire station to make their announcement, since it's local first responders who will most benefit from this information, should anything happen in Savannah. Firefighters risk their lives on any call, and need all the dependable information they can get.
"It is just as important to determine when a threat does not exist," noted Hutchinson. "During last year's [Northeast] blackout, we confirmed within minutes through JRIES that terrorism was not a likely cause."
Officials say it's about team building in the post-9/11 world. "Historically in the fire service, we've always felt like we've suffered from an information void," said Savannah fire chief Paul Taylor. "We have trained well, we've been equipped well, the information piece had always been lacking. This closes the loop. We are now a part of the team."
"Now we're seeing integrated information that's being shared at the local level," said Rep. Max Burns (R-GA Dist. 12), also in attendance. "So folks in Savannah and folks in Brunswick will know the things they need to know to keep this community safer. Especially as we host the G-8 in just a few days."
Chief Dan Flynn of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department explained the practical applications in situations like crowd control. "If any of the other agencies under the umbrella of homeland security have any information that helps us manage a situation and we get it rapidly through the JRIES system, yes that will help us," he said.
Though the system uses the internet, officials say all information sent and received will be encrypted and they're confident the system itself is secure.